Gambling With the Crown

By: Lynn Raye Harris

 PROLOGUE

THE KING OF Kyr was dying. He sat in his chair on the balcony, wrapped in a blanket—though the desert sun had not yet sunk behind the horizon and brought cooler temperatures with it—and contemplated his life.

He’d had a long reign, a good reign, but it was time to name his successor and make sure Kyr continued to thrive when he was gone. He could no longer put off calling his wayward sons home and determining which of them would be the next king.

He pushed to a standing position, unwilling to give up even a tiny bit of independence while he still had strength in his body. The cancer would win, but not today. He moved slowly but surely, making his way toward the desk in his study while a hovering servant shadowed his every move. Waiting to pick him up should he collapse.

Well, he was not collapsing. Not yet.

He had one last task to finish. And it began with two phone calls.





                      CHAPTER ONE

EMILY BRYANT STRAIGHTENED the severe black skirt she wore, patted the French twist she’d wedged her hair into and steadied the coffee in her hand as she faced the double doors that led to the bedroom of His Most Exalted Highness, Prince Kadir bin Zaid al-Hassan.

Outside, the sky was that special blend of salmon and purple that indicated dawn’s approach. Despite the early hour, Paris was awake and rumbling on the city streets below. Soon, Kadir would be awake, too.

Just as soon as Emily knocked on the carved wooden door. She frowned and dragged in a fortifying breath. The man was impossible—and probably not alone. If this morning was anything like other mornings, she’d be stepping over lacy underwear, rumpled stockings and a couture dress lying in a heap on the floor. On one memorable occasion, a bra had dangled from the priceless Venetian glass chandelier. What city was that in?

Ah, yes, Milan.

Emily firmed her lips in what she knew was a distasteful frown—she couldn’t abide messes, especially from people who should know better—and lifted her hand. Then she rapped three times.

“Prince Kadir? It’s time to get up.”

No matter the hour he came in the night before, Kadir always wanted to be awakened before the sun rose in the sky. Sometimes he went back to sleep, but not before peppering her with orders and instructions about the day. And not before he drank the coffee she always brought.

More often than not, he got up. Emily had learned to relax her expression into an impassive and unimpressed mask of cool professionalism when the covers whipped back to reveal sleek tanned skin and acres of lean muscle. She’d also learned to turn her head discreetly to the side on the rare occasions when he’d failed to add clothing to his lower half before he leaped up and shrugged into his robe.

If he were any other man—if this were any other job—she’d probably be horrified. But this was Prince Kadir, and she knew what the job entailed. He’d warned her as much when he’d hired her. When he’d expressed that a man might be better suited for the job of his personal assistant, she’d assured him she was up for the task.

Therefore, she endured his quirks and his single-mindedness. If he weren’t brilliant, if he didn’t pay her extremely well—extremely—she might not have stayed as long as she had. Not to mention that getting this job straight out of college had been a coup. She still believed that if Kadir hadn’t been so desperate to find someone who could put up with his shenanigans, he would never have agreed to interview her, no matter how impeccable her references.

“Come.” His voice was dark and raspy with sleep on the other side of the door.

Emily opened it up and walked across the darkened room in her sensible heels. There was a time when she’d loved platforms and flash as much as the next girl, but these shoes were a whole lot more comfortable. She opened the thick damask curtains to let in the light and took his coffee over and set it on the antique bedside table.

A quick perusal of the room indicated he was alone. She breathed a sigh of relief. She did not like the woman he’d been dating recently. Lenore Bradford, fashion’s latest runway darling, was not nice in general and evil to Emily in particular.